A Tale of Two Classes

11th December 2020

Compare these two photos; which class do you think was more dynamic ?

Photo 1
Photo 2

The basic lesson was the same: what are you doing now, add a connector (or discourse marker) and say what you want in the future.

Students are taught how to use vernacular language, practise changes in intonation and alterations in stress, as well as chunking (natural linking together of words).

The photos, as the saying goes, tell their own story.

Photo 1 is from a high-level IELTS class where I wanted to increase vocabulary, and encourage the students to use more intonation … or basically ANY intonation in their voice.

The topic went down like the proverbial Led Zeppelin (and I wasn’t feelin’ a Whole Lotta Love for the class). I managed to elicit some half-arsed replies before they returned to their mobiles (or cell phones if you’re in the USA) or their natural comatosed state.

The Big Short GIFs | Tenor

On the other hand, take a gander (have a look) at the second photo; same basic lesson target, but my goodness, what a difference, and this from an intermediate class.

Both classes were small in size (about six students) and predominantly teenagers, so how do we account for the chasm between them ?

To use academic language (for one of my new IELTS students):

This would seem to suggest that it was the students, as opposed to the lesson, that was the issue.

Academia GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Words such as ‘inspire’ or ‘motivate’ are synonymous with teaching. However, as someone who attempts to teach, I must add that a successful lesson relies on synergy; one cannot motivate those who actively resist being motivated.

Teachers only have so much energy, and they can’t afford to waste it on customers who shuffle into class, scowling, ignoring the teacher, sitting at the back clutching their bag, defensively, in front of them before becoming engrossed in their phones and ignoring any questions put to them. I’m not talking about children here, but young adults or adults, on a course that they chose, and need for their future.

Joking Season 2 GIF by Outlander - Find & Share on GIPHY

I wish I were.

So, to my great students, who come to class willing to learn, to be active, to practice and are polite and respectful:

Elvis Presley Saying Thank You Very Much GIFs | Tenor

iTalk Lesson Structure: What to expect

7th August 2020

For my iTalk customers, there have been some changes to the lesson structures.

The lessons will focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. We want you to sound like a native-speaker and that means hard work.

From now, the lesson will be arranged as follows:

A quick warm up to practise recent phrases or vocabulary, and to pass the time until all the students arrive.

This will be a chance for you to do some extended talking to develop sentence-building skills, incorporate idioms, expressions and prepare yourself for a speaking lesson.

The main lesson will be the handout ONLY.

Firstly you will learn new vocabulary and practice:

pronunciation, stress and intonation

Next there is usually some listening so you can hear native speakers use these words. The recording will be played two or three times for you to hear and copy.

Next up is the main language of this lesson. You will repeat these expressions several times and test each other. During this time, the teacher will listen and give guidance.

The idea is for you to sound like a native-speaker. You will ONLY achieve that by practice and practice.

Finally, the remainder of the lesson is for YOU to practice using the language, in various scenarios. I recommend changing speaking partners. Practice means repeating and improving.

Practice does NOT MEAN saying the text once, as quickly as possible, then declaring, “Teacher, finished !”

The teacher is here to help YOU learn.

We are not here to entertain you.

I will not tolerate any sarcasm, rudeness, insults or disrespect.

In the event that I have been insulted or disrespected, I shall end the lesson and you can answer for your actions to the management

I do not plan these lessons – it is just my job to deliver them and help your pronunciation

YOU chose the lesson … if you are bored, that is not my problem. This is a language school not an entertainment centre.

IELTS: What I expect from YOU

7th August 2020

bored Student" photos, royalty-free images, graphics, vectors ...
Mobile phones, yawning, sleeping, listening to music … to paraphrase Pink Floyd, “We don’t want no education.”

What is the standard of behaviour in your classroom ?

At my centre, in Sai Gon, Vietnam, we have to employ classroom management (normally reserved for ‘young learners’) to ‘adults’ and some unspeakable teenagers.

At one previous centre, I even had a student write in his book, “I haven’t done any work, I’m not going to do any work,” then laugh at me. Unfortunately, that is not an isolated incident.

Even though we have classroom rules they are mostly ignored, but that is indicative of the country as a whole [1].

To make sure my customers are in no doubt, here are some rules and reminders:

No mobile / cell-phones in the classroom UNLESS it has been sanctioned by the teacher for educational purposes. My lessons start on time – if you use your phones …

I HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE THEM AWAY

No eating, chewing gum, slurping drinks

YOU WILL BE SENT OUT OF THE CLASS AND HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO THE MANAGER WHY YOU ARE EATING

No chatting while the teacher is talking [2].

FURTHERMORE, IN MOST CULTURES, THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY RUDE AND UNACCEPTABLE.

The teacher is here to help YOU learn.

We are not here to entertain you.

You have a chosen a three-hour IELTS course, so deal with it.

Take notes, write down new words, practice using them. Week after week I give you sample answers, new phrases and personal help to enable you to improve your scores.

If I see you are not taking my advise, I will not waste time and energy on you.

Finally, I will not tolerate any sarcasm, rudeness, insults or disrespect.

In the event that I have been insulted or disrespected, I shall end the lesson and you can answer for your actions to the management

If you are serious, I will do all I can to help you. If you just want to joke around and stop me doing my job, there will be consequences.

Time to turn over a new leaf

You need to work MUCH harder, but don’t take my word for it:

I'm very moved to be here today, ... Our lives are now much better, but Vietnam remains a very poor country. We need to work much harder. - Ho Chi Minh

[1] motorbike riders don’t wear helmets, they overload their bike, use mobile phones, drive any way and any direction THEY want … public urination is endemic, recycling means throwing rubbish in the gutter and for many people, dogs are not pets, but lunch … and they joke about that to my face.

[2] good luck with this one … in nearly five years, I have never had a class that is able to just SHUT UP and listen. At first, I was shocked, adults speaking to each other, normal volume, continually while the teacher is teaching. As we say in the UK, empty vessels make the most noise, and there is a LOT of noise.